Kathy DeAngelo and Dennis Gormley
Honored April 25, 2014
For sheer impact on the Delaware Valley’s Irish music community at large, the Voorhees NJ husband-and-wife team of Kathy DeAngelo and Dennis Gormley has been a tour de force in promoting and perpetuating Irish traditional music for decades. The CCE-DV branch nominated Kathy and Dennis for induction into the CCE Mid-Atlantic Hall of Fame for their work with the Next Generation music program, the South Jersey Irish Seisiún, and for their countless other Irish music associations. Taking stock of their individual accomplishments would be significant enough, but if ever a couple embodied the adage that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, it would be Kathy and Dennis.
The couple began performing traditional Irish music together in 1977 as McDermott’s Handy. They are multi-instrumentalists and have performed hundreds of educational programs at schools, libraries, festivals and community events. They were promoting diversity and multi-cultural appreciation before those terms became ubiquitous in the cultural lexicon. Their recently-released CD, Bound for Amerikay, is culled from material from these programs highlighting the songs and stories of Irish emigrants. Their 1985 album, Come Take the Byroads, is re-released on CD. Besides their concerts, they are regular players for the ceilis for the South Jersey Irish Society and the Philadelphia Ceili Group.
And just as their musical mentor, Leitrim fiddler Ed McDermott, passed on his knowledge of the music, Kathy and Dennis have been doing the same. Kathy began teaching harp in 1986 in an effort to build a harp community where none existed before. With her encouragement, her students have competed at the harp competition at the Mid-Atlantic Fleadh Cheoil and more have won, placed and gone on to compete in Ireland than any other harp teacher on the East Coast. Dennis has followed her example and teaches tinwhistle, flute and guitar. For a number of years, Dennis taught classes for the CCE-DV. Many of their students of all ages are actively playing today and immersed in Irish musical traditions due to their influence.
Kathy’s commitment to building the harp community and expanding the playing of traditional Irish music on the harp extends far outside their South Jersey neighborhood. Since she took over management of the Somerset Folk Harp Festival in 2008 (the largest harp conference of its kind in the United States), Kathy has provided nearly $10,000 in scholarships to the festival to winners in the harp competitions at the Mid-Atlantic Fleadh Cheoil, Scottish Games harp competitions and other harp programs across the country.
As part of their continuing effort to sustain a vibrant traditional music community, Dennis and Kathy have been at the core of two long-standing musical endeavors in the region: the young musicians session at the Irish Center in Philadelphia, which has spawned The Next Generation of Traditional Irish Music, and the South Jersey Irish Seisiún.
With the goal of developing a common repertoire for young musicians to share in a social setting, they’ve been meeting the 2nd Sunday of every month for the last 17 years with interested kids at the Irish Center in Philadelphia to help budding musicians learn the traditional tunes of Ireland. This young musician’s session sprang from a day-long children’s event Kathy produced at the Garden State Discovery Museum in Cherry Hill, NJ in 1998.
Originally the couple organized the group to bring kids together to play Irish music with their then young daughter Emma, who at the time was a fledgling fiddler herself. Emma grew up and “graduated” from the group, and Kathy and Dennis remained—dedicated and committed to fostering young musicians. The Next Generation of Traditional Irish Music has played at the Garden State Discovery Museum in Cherry Hill, the New Jersey Folk Festival, the Philadelphia Ceili Group Irish Festival, the annual CCE-DV Wren Party, and countless sessions, ceilis and house parties. Last year, the group was part of the “Ceili Drive” CD that was recorded and produced by irishphiladelphia.com.
Many of these students compete in the Mid-Atlantic Fleadh, with many 1st and 2nd place winners qualifying to compete in the Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann. This past year, eight of the Next Gen students placed in 13 separate competitions and two students, Haley Richardson and Emily Safko brought home 1st place trophies from Derry in fiddle and harp in their age group.
The South Jersey Irish Seisiún is undoubtedly the longest continually running weekly Irish music session in New Jersey. It has been shepherded by Kathy and Dennis since 1993 at a number of locations, and now at the Treehouse in Audubon. It’s a multi-generational session that gives plenty of encouragement to their budding students as well as a top-notch outlet for the more experienced players. It’s been a mecca for players of traditional Irish music in South Jersey and regularly has between 12 and 24 players.
Last, but not least, in their contributions to the area’s traditional Irish music scene, Kathy and Dennis host many of the shining lights of traditional music in house concerts. Since 1998 when Kathy began hosting touring harp artists in their living room to inspire her harp students and friends (among them Gráinne Hambly, & William Jackson, Maire ni Chathasaigh, and Michael Rooney), the couple has had the likes of Kevin Burke, Niall & Cillian Vallely, Oisín MacDiarmada & Brendan Begley, and John Carty, to name just a few for these “packed house” concerts. Their students and session regulars get first shot at the seats, an opportunity to motivate and learn from some of the best players.